Not with a bang, but with a…muffled thud?
That’s how it is in Attleboro as officials seek to solve one of the most brazen thefts in Massachusetts since the Gardner Museum was hit back in 1990. While the estimated value of the object stolen is a bit less than those in that daring heist almost three decades earlier, the emotional toll of this criminal act is still being inflicted upon the stunned citizens of the former “Jewelry Capital of the World.”
In case you haven’t heard about this shocking story, it appears someone — in broad daylight — walked into City Hall and stole the gavel belonging to the City Council. It was apparently kept inside a desk drawer in the council chamber, and officials believe it was taken by an unidentified bearded gentleman with bushy hair who appears on a surveillance tape.
He was apparently accompanied by a woman who was conducting business in one of the city offices. This could have been a distraction to allow for the extensive stealth it took to walk into the always-open meeting room and slip out with the symbol of council might and leadership. Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the alleged mastermind.
Council President Frank Cook was forced to bring a rubber-headed mallet from home to try and control the councilors and crowd at the next council meeting.
Now, theft of any property — public or private — is a serious matter. The people involved in this will no doubt be apprehended, and hopefully the gavel will be recovered. While the sarcasm and lightheartedness with which the incident is discussed here is obvious, theft of any type is wrong and must be punished. In this case it appears only a gavel was taken, but it could have been something much more important or valuable.
It was only a month or two ago that an entire Town Manager mysteriously disappeared in neighboring Mansfield. Like the gavel, he was in the municipal building one day, and then suddenly gone a week or so later. No real explanation was given as to his surprising disappearance.
Rumor has it there are videotapes showing five individuals in the selectmen’s meeting room who look as though they might have knowledge connected to the abrupt departure. They are allegedly remaining mum on the topic, though it is widely assumed they know more than they are letting on.
And of course, we all remember just a few short years ago when air was somehow allegedly stolen from at least one football in nearby Foxboro. A kangaroo-style court declared that case to be closed after a lengthy and expensive investigation that proved virtually nothing. The blame was pinned on a guy in a men’s room and a certain superstar quarterback.
However, the real villain in that tale is reported to be a tall guy who answers to the name of Roger. He has not been seen in these parts since the alleged theft, leading many to believe he also knows a lot more than he is saying. Or knows nothing at all. The air was never recovered, and is still considered missing.
But back to the gavel…
As someone who has run many meetings in the past, I know the value of a good gavel. I bought my own when I first became a Town Moderator, and I have it safely hidden in my home, secure against potential gavel thieves. It has come in handy on more than one occasion.
The dull thud of a rubber mallet carries no authority. It might eventually make someone look up if you pound it enough times, but it is nothing like the sharp crack of a wooden gavel on that small, round platform they always get you to buy with it.
That definitely causes heads to snap up, and usually ends conversations going on in the background. Without a gavel, how would we ever know who is running the meeting?
In the meantime, we should be carefully watching for gavels suddenly appearing on the black market. By the time this column appears, the culprit may already have been apprehended and be facing the consequences of his actions.
Frankly — I hope they decide to drop the hammer on him.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.